…I have none.

I have never identified with anything too closely for too long. It seems that I have always felt the outsider, even among friends and even with family. I don’t know if it was (is) just some romantic notion on my part, or if there is more there. I have always felt adrift in life.

— on a side note, I believe this to be one of my failures in relationships with women. I, now, understand Woody Allen’s use of the Marx joke that he would never join a club that would have him as a member, but I also think that this has to do with desire and how desire works. We always want what we can’t have; anyway, this is a huge digression and fodder for another post later–

Now, though, as I am older, and now as I find myself in the midst of so many people so different from me, I find myself latching on to “identity.” This is the first time since my early teens that I find myself among people with completely different background; the first time I find myself the minority in a really really long time. And now, maybe because of this, maybe because of nostalgia, maybe because I hate when people “outside” try to speak to something you know so intimately, I find myself “identifying” with my old “home.”

I suddenly feel myself more Cuban and from Miami than ever. Although in the past, it didn’t really matter to me. I spent a lot of my early twenties trying to “find myself”- trying to reach some kind of at-one-ment, whole(ness), but then I found Eastern thought, which began to put cracks in that idea. Why was it I wanted to identify so much with something? What kind of completeness could I find or even fulfill? I began to realize that the idea was to realize that there is no wholeness or completeness; I realized that that idea was a delusion, it was an attachment I had to this life, it was a delusion that leads to material pain, and that I had to get it out of my head.

Once in grad school, I began to read more philosophy concerning this aspect of identity. If words were never fully present, and words were the only way to know anything, then how could I ever be present to myself, much less to an other? Once again, I began to shake off ideas of identity and embrace a Albert Camusian idea of the absurdity of life (and even with a God, I still couldn’t see knowing what the “meaning” was, so I was still left in a meaningless world) and I embraced at least knowing that the world is absurd, that I have no identity, and that I could still be freely happy.

And yet, I just responded to someone who posted an article from a socialist magazine praising and defending the Cuban government. My response was then responded to by someone telling me that “I didn’t know shit about Cuba”- which, I think, is kind of funny. Because in a sense, I don’t know shit about Cuba, but then again, do I know more about Cuban living in a Cuban culture, having Cuban parents and family, hearing stories from people who have been in Cuba, than some white kid from Tennessee? But why do I care? That is the real question…

I am never going to convince this gringo that what Castro and the Cuban government has done to its people is a crime against humanity, and he certainly will never convince me that the Cuban government is in any way, shape, or form good or right. Additionally, I don’t even identify with being Cuban because all I know of Cuban is the second hand stories I get from family that lived there years and years ago.

Yet again, though, it made me angry. It really got under my skin that some dude, out there, so rudely attacked my beliefs, which is why I never get involved in these conversations about politics or religion because they usually end badly.

The other thing that happened though is that while I never though of myself in any political terms/identity, I find myself more and more drawn to ethics specifically, and more generally politics. A part of me feels that if I am going to be in school for these many years learning stuff that some of the stuff I learn should be an ethics and a politic.

I browsed my modest library of books and am drawn to wanting to read Reinaldo Arenas’s Before Night Falls; I also want to read Jose Marti poetry, and I want to become better educated about the past and what happened in Cuba… I feel a pull towards these things that “should” define me. Now that I am away from it, I feel more Cuban than ever. It would surprise me if there is a single Cuban (and maybe 2 Spanish speakers in total) in all of the English graduate program here…

So fine, maybe I don’t know a heck of a whole lot about Cuba (because I was born in California and went to high school in Miami), but, I think i know a little more than “shit” about it…

While talking to a colleague/friend the other day, we were discussing how this, this analyzing and constant reading of literature, does not seem to be a “normal” job. That since this is what we do, we are attracted to people who understand why it is so hard to lose/sell/give away books. People who understand why it is we write quotes down, constantly read, constantly go back and reread favorites, constantly seek out new books and writing. And I think that this need blurs into life.

There is this understanding that we can never grasp or obtain (own) words, stories, theories, the things we read, but we feel this need to memorize the thing. I have talked about this before, I think… But the concept comes from Derrida when he talks about a need to repeat over and over a phrase, to memorize a phrase, because this makes us feel like we can own it, like it is something graspable to hold on to. I think this notion is what compels people to be sport’s fans, “patriots”, attached to one theory over another. This is why there is so much bickering and fighting, why we have jealousy, anger– this is what Buddhist talk about. Our attachments to concepts whether it be concepts we have about patriotism, identity, literature, politics, or life in general, we can’t accept having those concepts questioned.

And I think I have talked about all this before when I discussed Demillo, and I counter charges that this is passionless as a misunderstanding of the concept of detachment. You can feel passionately about something without having that something determine your mood. But none of this really matters because you already have a concept of passion, life, and how to deal with all of it, and if this goes against that concept, you are going to think that everything I have said is bullshit anyway.

The point of this was to discuss how when I am sick or depressed or heartbroken or happy or any other emotion, I can easily go to my job as a server for a chain restaurant and fake it and do my job. If I have my classes planned out and I know what it is I need to cover, I can–more or less– go into a classroom and teach something that I have gone over a million times, but if I have any one overwhelming feeling that is occupying my brain, I can’t “think” or “work.” I can’t analyze something and write about it. I can’t apply concepts and look at problems, text, philosophy in any kind of new or interesting way. All I can do when I am like this, is this. Ramble on about things.

For example, this post started off in my head as a post about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and how the book is reminding me a little of Jung and how Jung discusses the journey into the unconscious and in that journey the subject needs to confront his shadow and his anima, though this book, thus far, doesn’t seem to have those factors. I wonder if it is (I am halfway done) that these thigns are not there because of the rotten state of affiars the unconscious is in, with its ash and destruction. The Road represents an unconscious without the proper myths to order it, without the proper language and signification to identify these objects of the unconscious that need to be confronted.

But my mind now feels like McCarthy’s Road– an apocalyptic vision of things under ash, dead forest, lost highways that crazy, starving cannibals roam eating up any signs of life and imprisoning people. The question becomes: can we learn anything about ourselves if we are by ourself without an other to refelct me and show me to myself? Can one (in Jungian terms) become self-actualized if the unconscious is broken of its symbols and shadow and anima that are supposed to be there and need to be confronted?

Maybe, my brain will be working by the time i finish the second half of the book, and maybe I can get to more reading and writing once this crazy holiday season is over… And maybe, this is my most fragmented ramblings yet…

Here is a poem by Byron that always reminds me of any apocalyptic visions

The Road, especially, with its images of a world where there is no food and people turn to eating each other reminds me of this poem:

The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.

awareness-anthony-de-mello-paperback-cover-art

I just finished reading Anthony De Mello’s “Awareness.” It has been about ten years now that I have been interested in Eastern philosophy and thought: Buddhism, Taoism, Hindu thought, etc.. Within that, I have also been interested in psychology, and if it weren’t for the math and stats, I might have studied psychology instead of English.

De Mello’s book does a great job of mixing Eastern thought, Christian thought, psychology, and philosophy into this book (which took me so long to read because I was worried it was a little too “self-help”).

The book says nothing new, but for me, it is always good to be reminded of simple things I always forget. I tend to mix the “I” and the “me” as De Mello would put it. De Mello tells us that we need to be awakened– and this idea is a common one: most Eastern religions discuss samsara, delusion, being asleep, and that enlightenment, nirvana, God, is awakening to reality. This idea is repeated here.

The thing that we need to be awakened to is that we are attached to our delusions about life. How many of us always say, “I’ll be happy when….” But the condition (the when) comes, and then we are happy for a short period of time only to fall into unhappiness again. The first step, therefore, is to realize that we are our own obstacle to our happiness. That the idea of happiness is all in our head (“nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”).

What is continually repeated throughout the book is:
1) We must make the distinction between the “I” and the “me”– things do not happen to “me,” they happen to the ego, the I. The “I” is not depressed, the “I” is not happy, the “I’ is not anything, but we use this language that confuses us: “I am sad,” “I am happy,” but YOU are NOT “DEPRESSED”- you just are and that feeling will pass. Your emotions do not make up who you are.

De Mello says, “Problems exist only in the human mind” (80). Because we identify with our feelings. Because we try to change other people and depend on others for our happiness, and because we don’t even realize that we do these things.

2) Language is there for communication but is imperfect and leads to delusions. When we use language we categorize things, create concepts about things, talk about life imperfectly. This is an interesting point that goes along with the postmodern philosophy I have been reading. This idea also greatly reminds me of Emmanuel Levinas, who talks about totalizing language. It is also a point that Derrida makes: once we speak, there is distance, the trace permeates all our definitions; furthermore, once we put things into language, we bring in all our preconceived notions about the thing we are speaking and putting into words.

De Mello gives a great example here:

Words cannot give you reality. They only point, they only indicate. You use them as pointers to get to reality. But once you get there, your concepts are useless

Then he repeats the example a Hindu priest gave:

The ass that you mount and tha tyou use to travel to a house is not the means by which you enter the house. you use the concept to get there; then you dismount, you go beyond it” (123).

I would say that many of the other things that De Mello talks about in this book stem from this concept about language. Since language is a social, culturally shared thing, then all the other things we are attached to stem from using language in society. It is society that tell me that I have to succeed, get a pretty wife, have kids, have a good career, when in reality all you have to do is live, which brings me to number three:

3) Much like Taosim (and Buddhism to the extent that Buddhism uses Taoist beliefs), De Mello reminds us that life just is. WIth in that, the goal of life is just to live and go with the flow as he says, “Eternal life is now. We’re surrounded by it, like fish in the ocean, but we have no notion about it at all” (137).

His prescription of detachment (which isn’t really a prescription to do anything), so to detach from everything. This means from other people, from social constructions and concepts, from even religion and God. You do not need God, religion, or other people to be happy; in fact, these things just foster attachment, which leads to disappointment and unawareness.

The only thing to do is as the Buddhist say: unlearn something everyday. Lose your notions of what you think is going to make you happy and save you. De Mello, though, doesn’t give you any kind of real “method” to do this because a method would be just another part of the trap of society (I can’t help but to think of Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Invisible Monsters while reading this stuff. De Mello, like Tryler, suggest that once you get sick of being disappointed by people (because you depend on them for your happiness) then you will be able to be free without attachments. De Mello, like Brandy Alexander, lets us know that any way you can think of to escape the “trap” is part of the trap because we are so conditioned by society).

De Mello’s approach takes on a rather non-totalizing, psychological approach. There is no hope for change unless it comes from within and from an awakening/awareness. Rather than say ‘this is what you must do,’ De Mello suggest a couple of things that will help you wake up, such as, being aware of where your feelings are coming from, try to see the world from other’s perspective, realize that you are attached to wanting praise, acceptance, etc.

I feel my problem is that I am attached to wanting un-attachment. I am too concerned with wanting to “get it” with wanting to “wake up” that it gets in the way of being able to reach any kind of enlightenment. I am also selfish in my love– I want the other to want me and need me, which makes me want and need the other. But I am too attached to wanting to not want the other… It is a big mess really. But De Mello also lets us know that there is nothing you can “do.” You can only live and try to be aware of life– it reminds me of Tich Nhat Hahn’s idea of mindfulness. So… I guess I’ll stop doing…